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image of Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology

In his poetry and essays, Gary Snyder has developed a syncretic blending of two cultures: Buddhist and Native American. He has written about their similarities and historical links, and has noted how their differences complement one other. Such an intercultural project has been criticized by those who have claimed that one cannot simply take ideas and values from foreign cultures: they are culturally embedded and we are bound to the character and limits of our culture. In addition, some Native Americans have called his cultural borrowing from their culture an inauthentic "white shamanism." Snyder, however, would argue that shamanism and animism are world-wide human phenomena and have been kept alive in what he calls the Great Subculture. Modern people can have access to them through serious and humble spiritual learning. Two concepts can help us understand Snyder's intercultural project. The first is Bahktin's notion of "anotherness," in which difference is affirmed but dialogue and exchange are possible. The second is an ecological theory of culture, which argues against cultural essentialism by recognizing that cultures are both distinct and interwoven and ever changing. Thus authentic intercultural borrowing is a possibility. For Snyder, it is also a necessity if we are to develop a healthy relationship to each other and the natural world.


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